Its likely Jack Quinlan would have taken his secrets to the grave. But a terrible accident involving his adoptive mother requires him to return to his hometown, where his wife discovers that he has been covering up his past.
That’s the setup for “Missing Pieces,” the latest thriller/mystery from Iowa author Heather Gudenkauf. The book is a deeply satisfying novel in the vein of bestsellers “Gone Girl” and “The Girl on the Train.”
“I get most of my book ideas from watching news,” Gudenkauf said. “I am struck by people who are completely shocked when they learn something terrible about someone close to them.
But unlike “Gone Girl,” Gudenkauf’s book avoids explicit descriptions of violence.
“There is a hint of what might happen,” she said.
In the book’s opening pages, Jack gets a middle-of-the-night phone call from his uncle, Hal. Jack learns that his aunt, Julia, has been hospitalized and is in critical condition, and Hal urges him to return to his Iowa hometown. We learn that Hal and Julia raised Jack and his sister after the death of their parents. Jack and his wife, Sarah, make the trek to his hometown of Penny Gate, Iowa, which Jack has avoided for more than 20 years.
It doesn’t take long for Sarah to realize that Jack has withheld certain pieces of his past, including Celia, an old flame who married his cousin, Dean. There still seems to be some spark of romance between Jack and Celia.
The situation really begins to unravel when Julia dies in the hospital from poisoning. Furthermore, it seems that the fall that caused her hospital visit may not have been accidental.
Meanwhile, Sarah finds some clues about Jack’s past through a simple Google search. As the police dig into the murder of Julia, Sarah turns into an amateur detective, attempting to unravel the past and perhaps save her marriage. Gudenkauf has not tried to make the characters in “Missing Pieces” likeable, and readers might even grow to hate Jack. His redemption comes at a cost.
Gudenkauf will appear with author David Krugler Aug. 11 at Schuler Books & Music’s Okemos location. Krugler, an accomplished historian, is celebrating the release of his debut novel, “The Dead Don’t Bleed.” The book, set in World War II, is a murder mystery set against a backdrop of international espionage. The two authors will discuss mystery writing and sign copies of their books.
Like many novelists, Gudenkauf describes herself as “a reader first.” She tries to impress the importance of reading on young students in her day job as a Title I Reading Coordinator for her school district in Dubuque, Iowa. The author, who has written five books, hit pay dirt when her debut 2009 mystery, “The Weight of Silence,” was named a finalist in the Edgar Awards for best first novel.
“It was nice to be honored — a dream come true,” she said. “But a writer is only as good as the last book. You have to keep growing as a writer.”
While her previous books delved into family dynamics from several points of view, “Missing Pieces” is Gudenkauf’s first book written from a single point of view. This, she said, was the biggest challenge in writing the book. The story is told from the viewpoint of Sarah, who learns in a dramatic fashion that her husband is not quite the man she was led to believe.
Gudenkauf will attempt a new challenge in her next novel. The author, who is partially deaf, said her next book will have a protagonist who is profoundly deaf. The story will be told “without a sound apparent in the novel.”
Get a Clue presents Heather Gudenkauf and David Krugler
Author talk and book signing 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 11 FREE Schuler Books & Music (Meridian Mall location) 1982 W. Grand River Ave., Okemos (517) 349-8840, schulerbooks.com